Are the MiFi’s the problem or is it you?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about MiFi’s and the impact they have on wireless networks. We have hotel properties saying they are within their rights to block networks other than the ones they operate and then you have FCC rules which kind of state you can’t really do that. This all seemed to start when Marriot was fined $600k for blocking portable hotspots from a convention center. The uproar this has caused has been amazing. Drawing lines between fellow engineers, friends, enemies while creating stronger relationships amongst the same. Recently Google, Microsoft, and others have decided to band together hoping to convince the FCC that hotels should not be able to do blocking of any sort.

But what really is the problem here? Is the problem the MiFi, the operator, the user, unicorns, what? Let’s first look at the impact of the MiFi devices on the overall RF space. We all know that channel contention is an issue and when we build a wireless network we strive to ensure that we have as little contention as we possibly can. We setup our RF profiles and Tx power levels to control cell sizes, we limit ourselves from using 80MHz 802.11ac channels, we do everything we can to ensure the best possible experience for the end user. So why does the end user give your network the shaft and turn on their MiFi trampling all over that nice RF you created? Is it because you have a firewall blocking ports? Probably not. It’s probably because you have a poorly implemented guest network that requires a captive portal which does little to nothing for you from a legal perspective. Or maybe it’s because you are charging for a service that should be free and rolled into the price of the hotel room, airport fees, etc. If you put shackles on your guest network expect people to break out their own devices that they control and will provide them access to what they need, their precious Internet.


  1. el Guapo December 29, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Blake, you’re point is good- to a point. The part that you’re leaving out is the culture and behavior that Mi-Fi devices create for many that own them:

    – My Mi-Fi and/or personal hotspot lets me connect the same way every time. I could care less what’s available for guest networks and how easy they might be to use.

    – I paid for it, it’s mine.

    – My provider wouldn’t sell a Wi-Fi device that causes problems for other networks, that would be irresponsible so these slick devices must be OK.

    Many people NEVER turn off their smartphone’s hotspot capability, and are clueless that it may be problematic to nearby networks. People are fundamentally lazy, and many don’t put in the time to judge whether YOUR guest WLAN is easy to use, they just go with their hotspot because it’s easy.

    I’ve investigated dozens and dozens of these cases, and end users from John Q. Public to visiting IT vendors are more into easy and familiar than giving the guest WLAN any consideration whatsoever.

    1. blake December 29, 2014 at 11:58 am

      Very true Lee. You make a good point, we are all about easy to use. So I guess that means the answer is to do like Avaya did at WFD and just masquerade the SSID as whatever the client is requesting?

  2. Rock Kickass December 29, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    At this point, I don’t claim to have an answer. Like many other contentious Wi-Fi issues, industry (as in all of us) have done a crappy job of exercising any kind of control or strategic vision on Mi-Fis, so an ugly ship has already sailed. But we’ll still keep stressing the importance of carefully designing excellent WLAN environments and then cry like idiots at all the factors like this that degrade them. Lump Mi-Fi in with dated chipsets and legacy data rates, devices that can’t do enterprise security, shit protocols like Bonjour, device makers that pump out 2.4 GHz only devices, and a range of other maladies that we (again as an industry) collectively ignore until they bite our own networks and we’re getting into a really strange dichotomy of preaching WLAN excellence while enabling self-defeat of that excellence with all of these contentious gadgets/protocols/mindsets. I don’t know where its all going… but sure, Karma for all is as good an answer as any????

  3. Scott McDermott December 29, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    My portable hotspot is encrypting my precious Internets. I’d rather use that than the typical insecure guest network. Ease of use, already paid for, more secure, almost always faster…

  4. johnyri December 31, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    I like Gollum. And unicorns.

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